Budget Cuts Take Bigger Slice Out of School Supplies

Education budget cuts take a big toll in the classroom – not only are there more students cramming into already crowded classes, there are fewer supplies to go around. Cuts have been so severe that many educators, who have long dipped into their own pocketbooks for classroom and student supplies, can no longer afford to buy materials.

“I usually buy a lot, but will not be doing so this year,” says Molly Gustafson, an educator from Georgia. “I will be prepared to stock four or five kids, but nowhere near to the extent as in the past.”

Some districts are asking parents to make up the difference, sending home long lists of supplies their children will need for school. In fact, many families can expect to spend up to 25 percent more this year to fill up their kids’ backpacks with supplies. That’s according to the “2011 Backpack Index” released each year by Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bank.

Each year Huntington gets classroom-supply lists from a cross-section of schools throughout the six states it serves (Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky). It compiles a list of required supplies and determines costs by finding average prices for items at online retailers like Staples and OfficeMax.

Huntington’s annual survey found that between summer 2010 and summer 2011, elementary school costs shot up from $474 to $530 (12 percent); middle school costs ballooned from $545 to $681 (25 percent); and high school costs increased from $1,000 to $1,091 (9 percent).

“Families are facing a double whammy of rising prices for basic household goods along with new expenses that used to be covered by the public sector,” said George Mokrzan, Huntington Bank’s director of economics.

But in many low-income communities, expecting parents to pay for school supplies on top of their basic household expenses is simply unrealistic. To make sure the students in these communities have the materials they need, educators are finding creative ways to procure supplies.

Some hit the sales on “Teacher Appreciation Day” at retailers like Staples and Office Max, while others find supplies at the dollar store or local thrift stores, which often give discounts to teachers year-round.

Keith Pickering-Walters, a high school visual arts teacher from California, says he watches the Craigslist free section “with a passion.”

“I got 27 new rolling office chairs in really nice condition for my video productions lab for free from a design firm, and three studio lights, a 10-foot screen, and an older studio camera from another company,” he says.

Other teachers provide supplies for the entire year by conserving what they already have.

Tori Mazur, an educator from North Carolina says she was inspired by a placard in a hotel that asked guests to reuse bath towels during their stay to conserve resources.

“It made me think about asking my students to come up with a list of classroom resources that we should use sparingly, or take better care of,” she says. “Engaging them in the conversation and brainstorming about supply use might be a way to raise awareness of taking care of the materials we have so we can stretch our dollars together.”

For more ideas on finding free things for your classroom, check out these resources:

  • MJ Long

    I graduated 12/2009 from college. I was a nontraditional student meaning that I went to college late in life for a BA in Early Childhood Education. Having substituted since graduation, but would truely like to know why I can’t locate a first year teaching position. I have put my family is a real weird position–student loans are due, extensions have be used and we live on his pension and social securities. The pension has been cut 2 times and no raises for social securities. I need to understand what I should go before we lose our home. I don’t want my next step to be homeless.

  • Nancy

    To MJLong,

    You do not say what state you live in, but since it is evident that you really want to teach, then check in your state and see if you can take a certification test to certify in another area. Where I live there are always several 6 – 12 math positions every year. Perhaps you could start as a 6th grade math teacher. I hope this helps.

  • Doreen

    Speaking of budget cuts. Not having enough school supplies can be frustrating. I spent many dollars on the extra supplies for my classroom. Students who come to school with NONE at all always said, “I didn’t know I was supposed to bring them.” Yet school supply lists were given out at registration. MANY stores had big sales that were very affordable. I had a basket filled with “Lost” crayons/markers/pencils/pens and a stack of “extra” paper that had originally been flyers-the back was blank, and they were welcome to use them. However, after meeting their parents, I could understand why they had no money for supplies. In MOST cases, the parents had multiple piercings and tattoos, (and those were the ones I could see), not to mention the latest fashion-type clothing for them AND their children, and were already receiving government assistance. Perhaps losing the “bling” would enable them to purchase the needed equipment for their student. This is where the government needs to step in and require receipts from those who receive the government payments to prove where they have spent the money they get that is intended as support for their children.

  • Pingback: Clarion Call()